BY KARISSA MILLER
During Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, two Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education members responded publicly to media reports related to the board’s secret meetings by text message between December 2022 and April of 2023 — and a third member proposed opening discussions about allowing students to smoke at school.
Board member Doug Knight, who represents District 4, apologized for angering community members by participating in the long string of text messages, which included comments by board members on a wide variety of school topics. Other board members made comments in the text messages that were considered inappropriate by joking about student violence and LGBTQ advocacy.
“I think with each other we need to have some grace,” Knight said. “I think it would be good for society. I need to work on it. I get kind of passionate and wound up about things. I ask for grace for my mistakes. I will work really hard to give grace to others,” Knight said.
He reassured the public that he will not participate in any type of group text message that could teeter on any sort of impropriety.
Vice Chair Mike Kubiniec also addressed the topic during the portion of the meeting set aside for board member comments, stressing that he was speaking only for himself.
Kubiniec, who represents District 5, said that when he was running for school board, he was discredited by the media because he was “conservative in view in order for my opponents to win.”
He then explained that the group text messages were set up so that Superintendent Jeff James could keep the board informed on need-to-know items that happen in the schools.
“We would sometimes banter back and forth on topics, both personal and related to school topics. This is not prohibited activity. I can assure you we did not, nor never intended to run a secret meeting,” he said.
“We never convened to review issues before the board or discussed how we would vote on a matter. Never discussed policy or other funding decisions or the like,” he added.
Throughout his nearly six-month tenure on the board, Kubiniec has regularly said that he is the victim of the news media during board meetings.
“Did we illegally violate law to hold meetings outside of public view? No. In my heart, I do not believe we did,” Kubiniec said. “But I believe we learned a valuable lesson because of all of this.”
North Carolina law prohibits a quorum of board members from meeting and discussing official business unless the board has provided notice of the meeting and then meets publicly in open session. State law makes no distinction between in-person meetings and meetings held electronically, according to an analysis by the UNC School of Government.
Sloan proposes debate about smoking in schools
Also during the public comment period, board member Brian Sloan broached the topic of allowing cigarette smoking at the high schools.
Sloan, who represents District 1, said that all of the classes before him could smoke in high school.
“My class never did get to smoke—not legally. I’m thinking, as a board, how do you feel about starting to smoke again at schools? Think about the pros and cons. You don’t have to report back to me,” Sloan said.
According to N.C. statute, every North Carolina school district is required to have a 100 percent tobacco-free school policy that prohibits the use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes on campus and at school-related events for students, staff and visitors.